The Decision at Five
The Canucks entered this draft with a very clear idea of what they needed to get at fifth overall. They identified two distinct needs: a playmaking centre and a power play defenceman.
It came as little surprise then when Canucks general manager Jim Benning announced his selection of Timra centre Elias Pettersson with the fifth overall pick. Benning did admit, though, that the decision would’ve been a difficult one had the Colorado Avalanche let Cale Makar slip to them at five.
“Well, that would have been a hard decision.” Benning said through laughter. “Makar’s a player that drives the play from the back end. That would have been a hard, hard decision. We had a feeling that both the defenceman (Makar and Miro Heiskanen) would be gone, so we were concentrating on a couple guys with Pettersson being the guy we wanted.”
You won’t be terribly surprised by who Benning’s alluding to when he describes the other couple guys who were in the running with Pettersson at five. The obvious one is Cody Glass. Benning admitted they like the Portland Winterhawks pivot but felt Pettersson’s experience playing against men gave him a distinct advantage.
“We really liked [Glass] too.” Benning admitted. “With Pettersson, I think it was playing in the Allsvenskan as an 18-year-old [where] he put up good numbers.”
The Canucks couldn’t really go wrong here. They’re both excellent prospects, and Benning’s experience as a scout means granting him the benefit of the doubt in close decisions like these. What other choice do we have?
Jockeying for Position
The Canucks interest in Glass, imagined or otherwise, could’ve paid serious dividends. Had they kept the facade up long enough, it’s entirely possible they get Pettersson at six and an additional second round pick.
McPhee had a deal to move up to get Glass involving one of his second-round picks but didn't need it. Glass fell to him at No. 6.
— Nick Cotsonika (@cotsonika) June 24, 2017
Vegas Golden Knights general manager George McPhee admitted to NHL.com columnist Nick Cotsonika that he was willing to move a second round selection to move up to fifth overall for Glass. Eventually, Vegas understood that Glass would be available to them at six, and any impetus for trading up for the Winterhawks pivot vanished.
I asked Benning about McPhee’s comments, and he confirmed that the two sides indeed had conversations about exchanging picks.
“Well, [it’s] just what he said.” Benning confirmed. “We talked about going from five to six, and he would’ve got the five pick, but at the end of the day he didn’t want to do it and we made the pick.”
After the fifth overall selection, the Canucks and their fans were left waiting. Benning spoke on Thursday about the possibility of moving back into the first round if a player they targeted was available to them in the 20’s.
As Timothy Liljegren fell right out of the top ten and into the teens, some wondered whether that would pique the Canucks’ interest. The Maple Leafs took the Swedish rearguard at 17th overall, ending any speculation of that nature.
I wondered too if Portland Winterhawks defenceman Henri Jokiharju would draw them back into the first as he made it past 25. The Canucks scouted Jokiharju extensively this season, and it’s widely believed they would use the 33rd overall selection on the Finnish transitional defenceman at 33rd overall. That was too good to be true, though, as the Chicago Blackhawks had Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews select Jokiharju with the 29th overall pick in front of a raucous United Centre crowd.
Did Benning ever consider moving back into the first for those or another player? It doesn’t sound like that’s the case. “No, the player we had our eye on was already gone so we didn’t try to look to move back into the first round.”
If anything, it sounds like Benning is considering moving down in the second — with his 55th pick, it seems. When I asked him about that possibility going into tomorrow, he acknowledged it’s more likely they look to recoup picks in the later part of the draft with their second rounder.
“We’ll listen to our options. That 33rd pick where you still like two or three players we thought could’ve went in the first round that didn’t – we’re going to get one of those with that top of the second round pick.” Benning said. “After that, we’ll have to see. We don’t have a fifth [or] sixth round pick this year, so maybe we can flip down and try to recover picks in those rounds. We’ve got lots of picks and it’s going to be a fun day tomorrow”.
What About Klim Kostin?
One could make a reasonable argument that the St. Louis Blues made the best value pick of the draft when they took Russian winger Klim Kostin with the 31st overall selection. I’ve spoken to many scouts over the week who gave glowing reviews of the Russian winger. Some thought of him as a top ten talent.
Listen: J.D. Burke Joins TSN 1040 AM to talk Draft, Klim Kostin and Trading Down https://t.co/eL2lnUp7KM
— CanucksArmy (@CanucksArmy) June 8, 2017
At one point, it seemed as though you could count the Canucks among the believers in the Russian who missed most of his draft season to injury. I heard rumours that he was a chief target for them if they moved down from fifth overall. So much for that.
Clearly, Kostin wasn’t the player the Canucks coveted enough to consider moving back into the first to land. Benning admitted that no such player made it to the 20s. One reason why could be Kostin’s passport.
“With what happened with Tryamkin, it would have been tough to take another Russian so high.” Benning said. “We weren’t trying to trade up or anything.”
I’d heard nothing to date about how Nikita Tryamkin’s defection would affect the Canucks at the draft. Full marks to the Canucks for waiting until afterwards to reveal the impact it had on their willingness to use a high pick on a Russian. There’s nothing wrong with keeping your opponents guessing.